Demo limitations

Some retailers have no or limited demo water.

REI: No demos locally, but liberal return policy. (There went 12 hours of driving back and forth to order, pick up, and return kayak. Expensive!)

Retailer #2: No water. Will accept the kayak back if it’s in “perfect condition.” In other words, you could pay $2000 for a one-hour demo.

Retailer #3: Shallow river. I really want to know how the kayak handles in rough water on a large lake.

These demo issues concern me when the kayak costs a fair amount. Any tips?

article in Cal Kayaker
Some ideas to consider in an article in California Kayaker Magazine. Issue 8/Spring 2012 starting on page 6. Can be read for free online at

I’ve rented for a weekend. Yeah, it cost a bit but I was able to try it in the conditions of my choice.

day trip
Always a challenge (unless someone is only interested in the ubiquitous WS Tsunamis), and choices are limited unless you’re willing to go where the boats AND the waters are. Going to large paddler events and politely asking people if you can test their kayaks has been my best experience for getting to try differing models (I’ve rarely had anyone decline my request and am always willing to let curious others try my boats out in return.) We have a couple of annual regattas in my areas which are great places to ogle and test a range of boats.

Thinking back, I test paddled my favorite two kayaks in the home fleet before deciding on them by seeking them out while traveling out of town on pleasure trips. The Feathercraft factory, which is right on a side channel of the harbor on Vancouver inlet, set me up with a Wisper demo and let me take it out in the harbor for as long as I wanted one morning while I was on vacation out there. And while visiting family upstate, I rented a Venture Easky at Lake George Kayak, (which has one of the largest collections of demos I’ve encountered and is certainly a great place to check performance on a big rough water lake) before buying my 15LV.

Other places I’ve been that are on or near water that have a big stable of demos and rentals are the Small Boat Shop in Norwalk, CT, on a harbor in Long Island Sound and Frontenac Outfitters, north of Kingston, Ontario. Combining a weekend outing trip with a stop at such a place might kill two birds with one stone.

good advice nm

Most rentals are rotomolded
No one wants you to scratch and dent their thermoformed or composite boat.

I read the whole article
I don’t see anything in it that would help me demo a specific kayak, in the near future, in specific conditions when the retailer doesn’t have those conditions available.

I don’t want to buy without demoing again. The last error cost me a lot of time and money. The unsuitability of the kayak was obvious within the first 30 minutes, but it took too much effort to find that out.

One thing that adds to the problem is manufacturers’ failure to provide detailed hull descriptions at their websites, and good cockpit photos.

Another issue: It’s frowned upon to go to Dealer A because he has the right kayak and the right water conditions, and then buy the kayak from Dealer B who has the right price. Last time I did that it started a war.

Luckily the boat I was interested in is available in both materials.

second that
Symposiums and related events have certainly been the primary means by which I have been able to paddle different boats in spicier conditions. Although I’ve never attended any such event with demoing as a primary goal, paddling the Delphin in surf and rocks at GGSKS several years ago convinced me to pick one up on the cheap later that year.

rent and symposiums
Guess I am lucky to have a variety of boats available as rentals or demos in my area, even in composites. And more come in when the symposium is in town, so more options.

On buying from the cheaper one after demoing at the expensive one - you have just hit the reason why the cheaper one is cheaper - less service. They keep their prices down by not providing demos. You have to decide whether supporting the one that provides the service that helped you is worth your while (and the long term benefit of helping them stay in business, so you don’t have to travel even farther to find demo boats), or if pinching every penny is. Your call.

Many shops get around this by charging to rent boats you are demoing, and then applying the rental fee toward a purchase if you buy from them.

not just new demos in those shops
Two of the outfitters I mentioned, Small Boat Shop and Frontenac, not only have their stock boats but the last time I was at both of them, they also each had a boat barn full of trade-ins and kayaks belonging to private owners which were for sale used. Kind of like a car dealer’s trade-in lot – quite a few models that you would not normally find at a dealer who is a factory outlet for a only few lines.

Right, Frontenac is an excellent facility—lots of boats and a lake available. Wish I lived within a hundred miles of them.

I’m targeting one or two specific kayaks that are not widely available. I have to take what I can get for demoing.